Friday, February 25, 2011

Paranoia strikes deep ...

The astute music aficionado will recognize this headline as a line from the song "For What It's Worth" by the Buffalo Springfield.

Stephen Stills was 21 years old when he wrote the song. I don't know what insights led him to write it. All I know is that when I was 21, I thought I was the next Plato, Aristotle and Socrates all rolled into one. I have notebooks stashed away in my basement, filled with the rantings and ravings of a 21-year-old mind ... and none of it comes close to the powerfully real words that Stills wrote in that song.

For we have become a nation of paranoids. I don't know when the tipping point for all of this occurred. I would suspect that -- as with anything else -- we've been careening into these extremes for quite some time, and we never even noticed that we'd permanently crossed over into the land of bombastic, bloviating hyperbole.

But make no mistake. We're here.

We're here in politics. We're here in sports. We're here in the way we perceive everyday life. But most of all, we're here in the way paranoia just rules the day.

We just seem to be afraid of EVERYTHING.

How pervasive is it? Let's, for today, focus on weather. As I write this, it is raining. Much of the snow from January's succession of blizzards remains in place, as we've had precious few days when any serious melting could occur.

Last night, as I watched the weather, we were warned within an inch of our lives that "serious flooding" could occur as the result of the rain -- and warmer temperatures -- melting the snow pack.

Serious flooding. As if it's never rained in the winter before. Will it be messy? Sure. Will it be a pain in the ass? Most definitely. Is it possible that drivers should take heed when they see puddles, and go slowly? Absolutely.

All of the above. But do you know what? In another six months, I will be 58. That means I've lived through 57 winters (thankfully this one's winding down). I can't think of one winter -- ever -- where it hasn't snowed ... and where it hasn't rained while there's a significant snow pack on the ground.

The paradigm doesn't change. From December through March (and sometimes even April), expect snow. It's something we should all be used to by now. But Lord almighty! If the local TV weather forecasters see a storm brewing in Seattle, they're scheming for a way to keep us on the edge of our seats for the entire week until they're sure the storm's going elsewhere. If it is, they'll still manage to keep us in suspense. But if it isn't, and it's headed for New England, look out! Every storm has the potential for "major snowfall."

And what is "major snowfall" to these people? It's six inches or more. Hell, in New England, six inches represent a flurry. You shovel yourself out (or, if you're like me, you have your husky 13-year-old neighbor do it for you) and you move on. You don't miss a beat.

I don't want to pull the "when I was a kid" bit, but when I was a kid, six inches of snow didn't get you a day off from school. You bundled up and you went.

Now, if there's a hint of a six-inch snowfall, school districts pull the plug before the first flake falls.

This is probably attributable to many things -- the biggest one being the fact that we are in a litigious society, and school superintendents all over the region probably shiver during the winter not from the cold, but because of the prospect of being sued by some idiot parent because junior slipped on his/her way school. Paranoia runs deep.

It isn't just that, though. To be fair to school superintendents, it's no secret that there are people out there who take a double-dose of moron pills the minute it starts to snow. The drive as if it's 85 degrees in the middle of July. They make no concessions to the elements. There's a huge difference between being judicious and being stark raving paranoid, and there are far too many idiots out there who don't know it.

I call this paranoia pushback. It's a reaction to all this fear-mongering and finger waving. They're determined to act as if nothing can, or should, jolt them from their usual routines. So, they're the who drive up a narrow street at 40 miles per hour, and practically force YOU into a snowbank because God forbid they stop and let YOU by.

So, I'm guessing in that environment, superintendents have nightmares about moron drivers who barrel down these narrow streets, oblivious to the elements, and end up clipping some kid who's forced to walk in the street because the sidewalks aren't shoveled out yet.

Again, it's a chain reaction. We've become such a culture of everything that's WRONG with people that we can't even count on getting our kids to school without worrying about some catastrophe befalling them.

But, hey, what do you expect? We're bombarded with this paranoia every time we turn on the television. It's snowing. If we're fortunate enough to be considered "non-essential" (and isn't THAT a double-edged sword!!), and we're able to ride the storm out at home, what do we get? We turn on the TV and rather than watching "Ellen" or "Regis and Kelly," we get an extended weather report. Now, I'll admit I don't mind looking at J.C. Monahan. Bbut even SHE gets old after an entire morning's worth of saying essentially the same thing.

And what do they talk about? Significant "plowable" snow. Treacherous driving conditions. Dangerous winds. Vivid lightning. Potential for serious flooding. And new, this year, "take cover; your roof's going to collapse."

I will confess that I fell prey to this last one, much as I really wanted not to. I had my son up to the house shoveling off my roof, and I swear the only thing it got him (other than the money I gave him) was a trip to the trauma center because his back hurt so much afterward.

And while he was up there doing it, I was talking with my neighbor, who had snow piled up higher on his roof than I had on mine. We're surveying the scene and he says to me, "you know, these houses are fairly new. I have to think they were built to withstand having it snow in the winter."

Yeah. I'd have to think so too. But then again, every night for at least a week, the lead story on the 11 o'clock news was collapsing roofs (and here's a syntactical puzzle for you ... if the plural of hoof is hooves, why isn't the plural of roof, rooves). And as is usually the case with TV news (not to mention other facets of today's media), there was no context provided with these collapsing roofs. No indication as to how old the structures were, how they were built, how big they were (it stands to reason that a flat roof the size of Alaska is carrying much more snow than my pitched roof).

I say this, of course, knowing that my friend out in Western Mass. had her garage roof collapse on her and her husband's cars, causing mega-damage. Yet while I know these things happen, my head tells me that they were isolated cases, and that in each one of them, there was probably another contributing factor to the problem other than just snow.

Yet when it's pounded into our heads ad nauseum, even the most sensible among us can turn into a rhinoceros (if you don't get the reference, google Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros").

But now, after this winter, we can add "the roof's gonna collapse" to our lexicon weather paranoia. Right there along with significant "plowable" snow (which we can already see merely by looking out the window), treacherous driving conditions (honestly, doesn't that simply mean "slippery?"), vivid lightning (can you please tell me what lightning isn't vivid? Isn't that what lightning IS?), dangerous winds (which, most of the time, result in your barrels rolling around the street; dangerous winds, to me, mean hurricane); and potential for serious flooding (this last one actually has some merit, especially if you live near the ocean or close to a river).

The problem is this: If J.C. Monahan includes all of the above, or any of the above, in the forecast every time it snows (or rains, or is windy), sooner or later the words fall on deaf ears. Sooner or later, we become immune to the warnings. We shrug our shoulders and say, "can't be any worse than the last one, and nothing happened."

And this is why, on the occasions when we actually DO get a storm worth the hype, many of us are unprepared for it. We've tuned out all the warnings because we've heard them all so many times before, only to have nothing even close to what they're warning us about actually happen.

I suspect we'll survive today. My basement may take on some water, as it normally does when stuff like this happens. That's why I have a sump pump. And as long as it's connected, and the hose is where it should be, the water in my basement will be confined to one area ... away from anything valuable ... and I'll be OK. If it's not connected, and the hose isn't where it should be, I'll get water, water everywhere, and it'll be my own fault.

If the flooding is any worse, and water seeps into the basement in areas not covered by the pump (and that's happened maybe three times in the 24 years I've lived in the house ... and that's generally when it's rained for two or three straight days, non-stop) I'll have to use a wet-vac to suck it up. Or maybe a squeegee to push it toward the sump pump hole. Whatever.

The point is, it's happened before. I know what to do when it does. The world will keep turning. Life will go on.

We don't NEED all this draconian weather forecasting to feed our ever-growing paranoia about life. We're paranoid enough as it is.

No comments: